Jenn Rogien + Costume Design for HBO’s Girls

by Edith Young


In the most recent season of Girls, Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, attends her friend’s jazz brunch performance while wearing one of her signature power-clashing outfits, a tie-collared, patterned silk blouse layered underneath a sweater that pays homage to William Morris. She Google-searches her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend while armored with a glorified Hawaiian shirt. A collar freckled with chairs pops out from underneath a pullover sweater while she’s working as a substitute teacher. Behind each ensemble is Girls’ mastermind costume designer, Jenn Rogien, who wields formal elements like color and pattern to tell the coming-of-age story of four young women in contemporary Brooklyn. Rogien is at the helm of the show’s visual character development, and has received much acclaim for the way her costume design has pinpointed and captured the zeitgeist of a specific pocket of Generation Y enduring their formative years. (Rogien also outfits an entire prison population on the Netflix hit series Orange Is The New Black.)

There is often so much going on in the show that sartorial details can get lost in the drama, but Hannah’s relationship to pattern has been an evolving thread for design-minded fans to follow since the show’s genesis. The character’s enthusiasm for pattern runs parallel to the fervent resurgence of women sporting personality prints (a path plowed by Marimekko, and kept fresh by the likes of Buried DiamondKindah Khalidy, Dusen DusenClashist, and Print All Over Me). We pulled back the curtain and spoke with Jenn about how she has developed Hannah Horvath, television’s patron saint of the personality pattern. —Edith Young

2072609 - Craig BlankenhornHBO

I’ve read that you research for the Girls costume design by following trends in Brooklyn and looking to blogs. Which blogs do you look to for dressing Hannah?

I did a lot of inspirational blog reading and research in the earlier seasons of the show. I would create a design board for each girl for the first couple of seasons. With the more recent seasons, I’ve collected some digital images here and there for the girls and the guys. I know the characters pretty well at this point, so I don’t necessarily create digital boards or digital look books every season. I don’t remember doing a board for Hannah for Season 4. I was able to verbally describe “a Hannah take on a faint nod to Ivy style” to my team and off we went. 

Would you say Hannah’s relationship to patterns evolved over the seasons? How so? What does this evolution reflect about her character?

I really do think Hannah’s pattern choice has evolved over the seasons. The character grows and changes each season and that impacts all of the choices I make on her behalf – patterns, colors, shoes, accessories, hemlines, all of it. I started with a 70s-inspired color palette for her Season 1 to really play up the thrifted, disheveled, broke post-grad aspects of her character – avocado, mustard, rust, deep aqua – combined with cheeky, ironic prints (bird print romper, anyone?) and quirky pendant necklaces with almost every look. Season 2, she stuck with the color palette but the scale of the prints got a bit smaller and there wasn’t necessarily a quirky pendant with every look. Season 3, the color palette became a bit more contemporary with her pursuit of writing as a career and working with a professional editor. And with Lena’s pixie cut, the jewelry needed to be smaller in scale. And then there was the GQ effect – all of a sudden the character had a tiny bit of spending money and worked in a fashionable environment (well, fashionable for our show). The patterns got a bit smaller and more contemporary and her whole silhouette became more office appropriate with slightly better fit over all.  Then her look shifted again for Season 4’s trip to Iowa and segues into substitute teaching. The growth and constant change of the characters is what makes the show so much fun to design.

1523944 - Jessica MiglioHBO

How does this differentiate from other characters’ relationships with patterns and bold prints? What makes Hannah’s character most receptive to wearing patterned pieces?

Every character wears some pattern. Hannah is the most consistent in wearing noticeable pattern in most looks. Jessa probably wears the least pattern, and then it’s usually fairly subtle or one dramatic statement. Marnie wears very contemporary patterns – usually something a bit behind what’s fashionable. And Shosh wears prints and patterns that are super current, even trendy. Though, it’s impossible to predict what will be trendy six months out, since we shoot during the summer but don’t air until the following spring.

Pattern helps me create a bit of chaos for Hannah, particularly when I can mix patterns to give the audience a visual cue that Hannah is really having a tough time. Patterns and color combinations help me keep Shosh on-trend. The absence of pattern and a more pared down color palette allows me to push Jessa’s look in a more dramatic and eclectic direction. For Marnie, her patterns and colors enable me to telegraph a bit about where she is emotionally in the scene. Pattern and color are some of the most powerful tools I have in storytelling.

2120531 - Craig BlankenhornHBO

Where did you shop or source costumes for Season 4 Hannah?

Everywhere! All over NYC and Brooklyn. Online. I have a few favorite vintage resources we always hit up in our shopping but we really pull from all over.

Are there any pattern- or print-makers you find particularly inspiring, for both your personal style and your costume design?

The things I find inspiring aren’t necessarily directly related to my costume design work. I spend a lot of time now on Instagram for inspiration. Some of the things I find most inspiring are not fashion: @velvetspectrum (a graphic artist), @DesignSponge (obviously), @SwallowsandDamsons (a great floral designer), @Pagetraciwatercolor (a botanical watercolor print artist), @arielealasko (a Brooklyn based woodworker), @itsabandoned (Beautiful Abandoned Places), @natgeo (National Geographic), @aleksandrazee (beautiful woodworker), @ManRepeller (fashion, but really more).

From your research, do you see any trends emerging in contemporary print- and pattern-making, or in young women’s relationships to wearing prints/patterns? Do you think this is indicative of any significant cultural shifts? 

Maybe? I’m not a great trend forecaster! The Southwestern vibe thing still seems to be going strong.  And I can’t wait for the Coachella look to die out. I don’t think the 70s trend coming for Fall 2015 is going to help that, though. I’ve done enough floral crowns in the past three years to last me a lifetime.

Following Season 1, I felt like I saw a resurgence of patterned onesies and matching two-piece sets in department stores and boutiques. Do you feel like the costume design in Girls ever inspires trends in the marketplace (rather than functioning as a reflection of it)?

I hope it does. That’s a huge compliment. Though I think the marketplace might be hesitant to admit to inspiration from a show that is celebrated for its disheveled characters!

Are there any costume designers you look up to?

So many – Albert Wolsky, Ann Roth, Dan Lawson, Mark Bridges, Lyn Paolo, Ane Crabtree, I could go on and on.

2146986 - Mark SchaferHBO

Did your time at Yale impact the way you dressed Hannah at Iowa?

Maybe? Subconsciously? Iowa Writers’ Workshop is its own unique place. One of our writers went to Iowa, so there were a lot of emails back and forth and several meetings to make sure we got the look right, but also right for the show. And Hannah is Hannah, so there was a certain amount of willful ignorance in her look to stay true to Hannah’s fierce individuality. 

It’s pretty crazy/meta that Clashist designed this t-shirt featuring a character you’ve outfitted. Have you noticed an emerging trend of the naked female figure on prints like this one?

This is amazing. Strangely, this is the first I’m seeing/hearing about this…

Are there any emerging fashion or textile designers you’ve found out about via lookbooks sent to you or blogs that you’re excited about? 
I got connected with Toy Syndrome – of the famous lizard tee shirt – through the show and Natalya continues to make awesome, interesting tees. I’m loving Carleen – a young Brooklyn designer – and Lineage – an NYC active wear brand that is doing crazy awesome patterned yoga pants. There is so much great stuff happening out there right now.

Hannah seems to be a big Dusen Dusen fan. Is there any backstory to this? Are there any other brands you’re loyal to for her character?

I originally got connected with Dusen Dusen through a PR contact for a jewelry line I was already using for Hannah. The silhouette was perfect for Hannah and Ellen produces in NYC, so she was able to help me out with multiples for a dress in record turnaround time. I love that Ellen designs a lot of her own patterns so the pieces are unique and right for Hannah.

1915735 - Mark SchaferHBO

Which costumes have you made or remade for Girls, like Jessa’s bridal feather dress?

It’s always the ones you might not expect – Jessa’s vintage feather dress had to be remade because we needed multiples and I worried the original 1930s dress was too fragile to make it through a full day of shooting, let alone the five we did. Season 2, I had Hannah’s fruit bustier and shorts made because we needed multiples and one of the bustiers needed to fit the guy in the club with whom she switches shirts. I made Marnie’s plastic dress because I wanted a specific silhouette and knew immediately what it should be when I swatched the gold embossed vinyl that I used for the under-skirt and bra. I had a dress made for Caroline when I couldn’t find anymore great 1990s baby doll dresses in the thrift stores and I needed a vintage looking dress for a stunt involving the coffee table. I had Mimi Rose’s gallery opening smocks made because I wanted the denim fabric and denim smocks didn’t exist. And there’s a great dress for Season 5 but you’ll have to tune in… 

Where is the direction of Hannah’s relationship to pattern going in Season 5?

Hannah is still wearing a lot of pattern in Season 5, but it’s a bit more grown-up to support her story line this season. That’s not to say that there won’t be some silly costume moments. She is still Hannah.

Will the role of pattern in the show’s costume design intersect with the introduction to Tokyo? (It seems like a new aesthetic was hinted at with Abigail’s marbled sweater in Season 4.) 

Oh, that’s interesting! Don’t read too much into the marbled sweater… I loved that piece. It was the perfect thing for Abigail. That and a statement necklace and we started a whole look for her.

Girls‘ costume design has received a lot of attention for the alteration of Hannah’s clothes so they look more misshaphen on her figure and for the mystical way that Jemima Kirke can pull off a hat onscreen. Do you ever purposely reuse clothes on different characters to demonstrate how friends borrow each other’s clothes but never look quite right on them?

I reuse clothes all the time, but usually on the character that wore them originally. We’ve had some scripted clothes sharing here and there. I shy away from creating extra-textual stories that, while entertaining, could be confusing or distracting. I try to have every look support the story and I really look to the script as a bible. If there is a Season 6, there could be some great comedy in clothes sharing though. Maybe we can get the writers on board…?

Season 5 of Girls premieres in January 2016, but you can follow Jenn on Instagram and Twitter now to tide you over until the new year. 

Images via Joe Tanis, Mark Schafer/HBO, Craig Blankenhorn/HBO, and Jessica Miglio/HBO. 

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  • I appreciated the behind the curtain information giving background to the inspiration to Hannah’s wardrobe which reflects her character so well. We understand her so much better with her quirky middle school fashion choices. It reminds me how my friends and I tried to put together looks given the same resources and immaturity in our choices. Even in the working world, I expect Hannah will give us insight to her eccentric character via her wardrobe.
    I am a little surprised on the comments related to Jessa. I see her style as bohemian and “groovy” which, to me, includes color and pattern. I think of Anthropology as the potential source of this look.

  • While I appreciate the detailed information about the characters and costumes for this one series, I would have liked to know about Jenn Rogien; her career, experiences and the choices she’s made along the way. I think that would have been truly interesting, and more in keeping with the other great interviews I read here.